The Widows of Malabar Hill

The Widows of Malabar Hill

Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father's law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women's rights. Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Oma...

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Title:The Widows of Malabar Hill
Author:Sujata Massey
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Widows of Malabar Hill Reviews

  • Cathy Cole

    Having been a fan of Sujata Massey's award-winning Rei Shimura mystery series, I was thrilled to hear about this first Perveen Mistry mystery set in 1920s Bombay, India. There are two interwoven timelines in The Widows of Malabar Hill. One is present-day Bombay in 1921 which shows us Perveen working hard to become an integral part of her father's law firm. The second timeline takes us back to 1916 so we can learn what happened to Perveen to make her the woman she is five years later.

    The story it

    Having been a fan of Sujata Massey's award-winning Rei Shimura mystery series, I was thrilled to hear about this first Perveen Mistry mystery set in 1920s Bombay, India. There are two interwoven timelines in The Widows of Malabar Hill. One is present-day Bombay in 1921 which shows us Perveen working hard to become an integral part of her father's law firm. The second timeline takes us back to 1916 so we can learn what happened to Perveen to make her the woman she is five years later.

    The story itself is a version of the locked room mystery. The widows live in purdah on Sea View Street. They stay in the women's section of the house, they do not leave their home, and they do not speak to any man who is not part of the immediate household. When a man dies inside a house where few people are admitted, it's going to take knowledge of the interior workings of the place to learn the truth. As a woman, Perveen is perfect for the role of investigator. She's also perfect in another way: she's become a feminist who's passionate about the rights of women and children. She shows us how such restricted lives are led and the intricate maneuverings that must be done in order to conduct an investigation. (Some policemen are much less willing to conduct themselves according to the beliefs of those who have become a part of their investigation.)

    The mystery is a strong one because readers must acquaint themselves with this unfamiliar world in order to piece together what happened. And what can I say about the setting? Massey pulled me right into this world, and I was almost on sensory overload. The old ways versus the new. Bombay's rapid growth into a vibrant major city. The various political, religious, and social factions that chafed against each other on a daily basis. And one woman, with the support of her parents, who's strong enough to stand up for what's right.

    I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!

  • Sarah

    “As the only female lawyer in Bombay, you hold a power that nobody else has,” a British government official tells Perveen Mistry in this first of a refreshingly original mystery series – and he’s right. It’s 1921, and Perveen is a solicitor in her father’s law firm. Even though she can’t appear in court, her position and gender mean she’s the only individual with the means to look into a potential instance of deception and fraud.

    A Muslim mill-owner's three widows, who live in purdah with their c

    “As the only female lawyer in Bombay, you hold a power that nobody else has,” a British government official tells Perveen Mistry in this first of a refreshingly original mystery series – and he’s right. It’s 1921, and Perveen is a solicitor in her father’s law firm. Even though she can’t appear in court, her position and gender mean she’s the only individual with the means to look into a potential instance of deception and fraud.

    A Muslim mill-owner's three widows, who live in purdah with their children in his mansion on Malabar Hill, appear to have given away their rightful dower and inheritance. Perveen suspects they didn’t realize the implications of their signature, and when she visits the three individually, it appears that she’s correct. When she discovers a body on her return visit to the Farid family, she suspects a member of the household did it – but who?

    There’s considerably more to the plot than a traditional murder mystery, though. Though only 23, Perveen has a professional, mature demeanor that helps her gain the widows’ confidence, and there’s a reason behind it: she’s been through a lot in her short life. Massey depicts her backstory in chapters set back in 1916. This allows for two stories running in parallel: who committed the crime at Malabar Hill, and what trauma did Perveen endure? While I was struck by the abrupt jump back in time initially, I came to feel that this increased the suspense.

    The setting for this story is absolutely key, and from the Mistry residence on the city’s outskirts to the prestigious Taj Mahal Hotel along the harborfront, the layout of historical Bombay is described in clear, thorough fashion (the maps at the beginning are helpful but not absolutely necessary). Perveen and her family are Parsis – descendants of immigrants from Iran – and followers of Zoroastrianism, and the novel explores the religion’s traditional and more orthodox beliefs. Bombay contains a multiplicity of cultures, classes, and languages, and I came to admire Perveen’s ability to steer a fine path through it all.

    What comes through most strongly in this entertaining work, though, is the status of women, and how much Perveen had to accomplish to get where she is.

    also makes you think about how critical the support of family and others can be for women in desperation; where would the novel's characters have been without it?

    I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

    First reviewed at

    , based on an ARC received at BookExpo last year.

  • Rhiannon Johnson

    The first book of 2018 that I will be raving to everyone about!

    Read my full review here:

  • Andrea Larson

    Sometimes I end up reading books that are unexpectedly timely. Case in point: The Widows of Malabar Hill. I picked it up for the mystery, the exotic setting and the historical time period (India 1916-21), but I ended up really appreciating its relevance to current women's issues. Watching the Golden Globes on Sunday night, I was reminded of the strong, intelligent main character, Perveen Mistry. She is based on the real-life Cornelia Sorabji, one of the first Indian female lawyers, and like Corn

    Sometimes I end up reading books that are unexpectedly timely. Case in point: The Widows of Malabar Hill. I picked it up for the mystery, the exotic setting and the historical time period (India 1916-21), but I ended up really appreciating its relevance to current women's issues. Watching the Golden Globes on Sunday night, I was reminded of the strong, intelligent main character, Perveen Mistry. She is based on the real-life Cornelia Sorabji, one of the first Indian female lawyers, and like Cornelia, Perveen faces discrimination because of her gender and her race in colonial India.

    The book alternates between two narratives. The first, which takes place in 1921 Bombay, follows Perveen as she represents three purdahnashins, women who lived in seclusion according to their religious custom. When their husband dies, his estate manager demands their inheritance, then is mysteriously killed. Moved by the plight of the women, who have no contact with the outside world and are forbidden from seeing men, Perveen seeks justice for them but ends up in danger herself.

    The second story line goes back a few years, to 1916, when Perveen marries, leaving her progressive parents behind in Bombay and moving to Calcutta to join her new in-laws. However, she finds that her marriage, and her place within it, are not at all what she expected.

    If you've been looking for a new mystery series, look no further. Beyond the issues about women's rights and the whodunit plot, Perveen is a compelling, relatable character.  It's also fascinating to learn about the various cultures interwoven into the fabric of India, and imagining the richly described world of 1920's Bombay. I can't wait for the next book in the series!

    For more info about this book, as well as the places depicted in it, see the author's web site at sujatamassey.com.

  • Candace

    How great is it when a novel lives up to its hype? I was so excited about this book and was thrilled to get a review copy via Netgalley, that it would be hard to not have some little sense of let down. But there is none.

    Completely engaging from page one, the "Widows" tells an old story that is completely new. The variety of customs and beliefs in Bombay during the early 1920s is remarkable, as is everyone's ability to maneuver one thing or another. Sujata Massey makes no attempt to judge or mode

    How great is it when a novel lives up to its hype? I was so excited about this book and was thrilled to get a review copy via Netgalley, that it would be hard to not have some little sense of let down. But there is none.

    Completely engaging from page one, the "Widows" tells an old story that is completely new. The variety of customs and beliefs in Bombay during the early 1920s is remarkable, as is everyone's ability to maneuver one thing or another. Sujata Massey makes no attempt to judge or modernize anything in the story--the customs are what they are. The story has depth and surprises, and Massey's new character, Perveen Mistry, is appealing and believable.

    More good news--"The Widows of Malabar Hill" comes out on Tuesday. Grab a copy and enjoy!

  • Mainlinebooker

    When you can learn from a book as well as be entertained, it is a novel that deserves attention. Sujata Massey has accomplished this in what I hope will be the first in a series set in Bombay and Calcutta India. Peppered with Indian words(don't worry, there is a glossary) and woven around Parsi (Zoroastrian) beliefs, I felt submerged into a world that I knew somewhat about but was fascinated how this religion's beliefs engulfed womens' lives. Perveen Mistry,is an unusual barrister in 1921 Bombay

    When you can learn from a book as well as be entertained, it is a novel that deserves attention. Sujata Massey has accomplished this in what I hope will be the first in a series set in Bombay and Calcutta India. Peppered with Indian words(don't worry, there is a glossary) and woven around Parsi (Zoroastrian) beliefs, I felt submerged into a world that I knew somewhat about but was fascinated how this religion's beliefs engulfed womens' lives. Perveen Mistry,is an unusual barrister in 1921 Bombay-the first female to fill this role although she is not allowed to be in the courtroom. However, while working in her father's practice, she interviews three Muslim women who observe purdah and want to settle their husband's estate. A male caretaker has been appointed to aide the women but his motives are questionable . When visiting, a murder occurs which becomes the premise of the book along with Perveen's marriage. A delightful look at a slice of society that is not known to many in the West,with strong geographical details ,an engaging mystery, and great historical details.

  • Yoana

    A purely fantastic summer read that has mystery, romance, drama, friendship and strife. Set in 1920s Bombay (and briefly in Calcutta), it follows the life story and current work of Perveen Mistry, Bombay's first woman lawyer. While she's investigating a suspicious case wherein three Muslim widows have declared they want to give up all of their inheritance in favour of the family charity fund, Perveen gets more than she's bargained for, including

    A purely fantastic summer read that has mystery, romance, drama, friendship and strife. Set in 1920s Bombay (and briefly in Calcutta), it follows the life story and current work of Perveen Mistry, Bombay's first woman lawyer. While she's investigating a suspicious case wherein three Muslim widows have declared they want to give up all of their inheritance in favour of the family charity fund, Perveen gets more than she's bargained for, including

    Parallel to her investigation of the case, we get the story of her past and how she ended up a single woman working a man's job at her father's law firm. I found this part way more engrossing - it describes the fate of her first love and offers some fascinating insights into Parsi culture and practices that were still around in the 1920s. It's akin to a family saga, with detailed yet easy descriptions of home life and a sensitive exploration of

    The mystery isn't that exciting and the writing is very accessible, but you can tell instantly the author is very talented. She builds the fictional world on a foundation of rich local detail, including a barrage of Indian (mostly Hindi and Gujarati) words, architectural specifics, food, holidays, traditions, modes of communication, etc. 1920s Bombay comes alive in the narrative and it's a pleasure to explore.

    I may be biased though because Mumbai is my all-time favourite city in the whole wide world.

  • Leslie

    Perveen Mistry, first female lawyer in Bombay in 1921, takes on a case that leads to investigation into murder. Being female is in many ways a negative in this time and in this place--except for the doors that it opens for Perveen in this particular instance. A novel that combines culture, religion, mystery, history and women's rights, this is a strong first in a new series that features a compelling heroine in a lovely family.

  • Tammy

    This is a very well done old-fashioned historical novel and my first experience with Massey. Perveen is the only female practicing lawyer in 1921 Bombay. She is unable to argue cases in court due to the strictures of the time and instead works as a solicitor for her father’s practice. At its heart, this is a murder mystery and a good one. There is a bit of a dual timeline but it doesn’t occur every other chapter so the novel flows more smoothly than other books that have used this device.

    Pervee

    This is a very well done old-fashioned historical novel and my first experience with Massey. Perveen is the only female practicing lawyer in 1921 Bombay. She is unable to argue cases in court due to the strictures of the time and instead works as a solicitor for her father’s practice. At its heart, this is a murder mystery and a good one. There is a bit of a dual timeline but it doesn’t occur every other chapter so the novel flows more smoothly than other books that have used this device.

    Perveen’s experiences in 1916 and 1917 inform the woman that she is in 1921 and you can’t help but like her. She’s intelligent, feisty and thoughtful. Her unique status as a female lawyer allows her to represent and interact directly with three widows practicing purdah. I didn’t know much about the practice of seclusion and found this to be fascinating. Actually, I didn’t know much about Indian culture in general other than that the religious and language differences among the population are many and I came away from this book knowing more than I did. By reading this book, I attended a Parsi wedding and learned a little about food preparation. I never expected to like this book s much as I did.

  • Jessica

    The writing was engaging and the worldbuilding and characters were interesting, but alas, this was not for me.

    1) Massive flashbacks sprinkled throughout. I can see how the unpeeling-the-onion effect can appeal to authors, but as a reader I almost always find that they interrupt the flow.

    2) I'm not a huge lit fic/women's lit fan, and that was the genre the flashbacks were written in. The historical and cultural stuff was interesting, but I'd rather read non-fic for that content.

    3) I'm not a huge

    The writing was engaging and the worldbuilding and characters were interesting, but alas, this was not for me.

    1) Massive flashbacks sprinkled throughout. I can see how the unpeeling-the-onion effect can appeal to authors, but as a reader I almost always find that they interrupt the flow.

    2) I'm not a huge lit fic/women's lit fan, and that was the genre the flashbacks were written in. The historical and cultural stuff was interesting, but I'd rather read non-fic for that content.

    3) I'm not a huge fan of mysteries because there's often not enough character or world-building. But when I do read mysteries, I actually enjoy the locked-door trope, so this should have suited me. I think that I may have found the mystery here more interesting, if the story itself hadn't been so jumbled from the flashbacks.

    Review based on galley copy received from the publisher. Skipped big chunks in the middle, so calling this a DNF, no rating.

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